Saturday, January 20, 2007
Political storm clouds gathered again over the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina as former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said party politics influenced decisions on whether to take federal control of Louisiana and other areas affected by the hurricane.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the partisanship Brown described was "disgusting," while a White House spokeswoman said Brown was making "false statements."
Brown told a group of graduate students Friday that some in the White House had suggested the federal government should take charge in Louisiana because Blanco was a Democrat, while leaving Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, in control in his state.
Brown, speaking at the Metropolitan College of New York, said he had recommended to President Bush that all 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast affected by the devastating hurricane be federalized — a term Brown explained as placing the federal government in charge of all agencies responding to the disaster.
"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor, and we have a chance to rub her nose in it,'" he said, without naming names. "'We can't do it to Haley (Barbour) because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him. So we're just gonna federalize Louisiana.'"
Brown, 52, declined to say who in the White House had argued for federalizing the response only in Louisiana. He said that he'd later learned of the machinations through Blanco's office and from federal officials.
Blanco reacted sharply to Brown's remarks.
"This is exactly what we were living but could not bring ourselves to believe. Karl Rove was playing politics while our people were dying," Blanco said through a spokeswoman, referring to Bush's top political strategist. "The federal effort was delayed, and now the public knows why. It's disgusting."
Eryn Witcher, a White House spokeswoman, denied Brown's claims.
"It is unfortunate that Mike Brown is still hurling false statements about the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina," she said. "The only consideration made by the administration at the time of this tragedy and since are those in the best interests of the citizens of the Gulf region."
Calls made late Friday seeking comment from the federal Department of Homeland Security were not immediately returned. A spokesman for Barbour, Pete Smith, had no immediate comment.
The question of federal control became a source of contention after Katrina. Bush asked to put military relief efforts in Louisiana under federal oversight, but Louisiana officials rejected that idea, keeping state control over National Guard troops. They worked together with federal forces.